Aphelandra squarrosa, known more commonly as Zebra plant, is a tropical plant originally from Brazil. Typically grown indoors, it's lauded for its unique dark leaves that are striped with white veins, as well as its colorful flowers. When in bloom (which usually happens in late summer or early autumn) a Zebra plant bears tall golden bracts that can reach several inches and number between two to four per plant, lasting up to six weeks. Like many tropical plants, the Zebra plant can be a challenge to grow indoors, especially in temperate areas. It requires a lot of moisture, warmth, and food to thrive, and indoor conditions are not always naturally conducive to the plant. Still, with the right care and attention, a Zebra plant can thrive for several months, if not into the following year.
|Botanical name||Aphelandra squarrosa|
|Common name||Zebra plant|
|Mature size||1–2 ft. tall (indoors), 4–6 ft. tall (outdoors), 1–5 ft. wide|
|Sun exposure||Indirect, partial|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Bloom time||Late summer, early fall|
|Hardiness zones||11, 12 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Non-toxic, can irritate skin|
Watch Now: How to Grow a Zebra Plant Indoors
Zebra Plant Care
Native to the jungles of Brazil, the Zebra plant is a beautiful—but temperamental—plant. If you're up for the challenge of nurturing this tough tropical, begin by choosing a spot for your plat that boasts a slightly higher humidity level (60–70 percent) and a temperature above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the plant in bright, filtered light (but not direct sunlight) and its soil consistently moist. Accentuate its graphic striped leaves with an equally bold pot and keep an eye out for its signature yellow bract, which will bloom in late summer or early fall. Once the plant has flowered and the bracts appear to be dying, prune your plant, taking care to remove the spent bract and any surrounding leaves or stems that appear wilted.
Zebra plants thrive in indirect light or partial shade, as they're used to growing under a canopy of trees in the tropical jungles. Direct sunlight can cause the leaves to scorch and should be avoided, but complete shade can mean that your plant won't bloom.
A Zebra plant will grow best in soil that is neutral to acidic. A multi-purpose potting blend is adequate for a Zebra plant—you can also incorporate sand into the mixture to ensure that it drains well. If a flowering plant is your goal, feed using fertilizer every one to two weeks during its growing season (spring and summer).
As mentioned, Zebra plants prefer a consistently moist soil, which may take a bit of finesse, as over-watering can cause the leaves to wilt. Its recommended that you water your Zebra plant to saturation every few weeks (or as you observe the soil drying out), allowing the water to completely penetrate the soil until it runs out of your container's drainage holes. Your water temperature should be slightly lukewarm so it mimics the variables of a tropical rainstorm.
Temperature and Humidity
Because of their tropical origins, Zebra plants grow best in moderate temperatures—their grow location should reach at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, and never dip below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity is also important to the Zebra plant, so its space should be kept at 60 to 70 percent humidity. If these conditions cannot be achieved naturally indoors, you can increase moisture levels by using a humidifier. Overall, strive to maintain an even temperature for your plant, avoiding high fluctuations in either direction and keeping it away from any vents that could make it too hot or too cold (such as an air conditioner).
The use of fertilizer can greatly benefit the Zebra plant's growth, especially when it comes to its ability to flower. During its peak growth season (typically spring and early summer), the Zebra plant should be fed every one to two weeks using a fertilizer that is well-suited to both foliage and flowers.
Is Zebra Plant Toxic?
Zebra plant is considered non-toxic, however, it can irritate skin. When pruning, it's best to wear gloves to avoid coming in contact with the plant's sap.
Propagating a Zebra Plant
If you're looking to propagate your Zebra plant, do so in the spring using cut stems from your original plant. Cut two- to three-inch-long sections of stem from side shoots of the plant, then dust the cut ends in a rooting hormone to increase your chances of successful propagation. Insert the stem ends into a pot filled with moist soil and place it on top of a heating mat if your room does not naturally maintain a temperature of around 70 degrees. The stems will also need lots of humidity to grow strong roots successfully, so it may be helpful to increase the moisture level by growing in a covered terrarium or placing cellophane over the top of your pot. Root growth can take around a month; keep an eye out for new leaves on the surface of the plant, as that is a good indication of growth happening below the soil line too.
Repotting a Zebra Plant
Any propagated Zebra plants should be repotted once the plant grows roots and reaches maturity. Beyond that, Zebra plants do not need to be repotted often, benefitting from a new home only every two to three years. If you notice a decrease in soil, simply remove the top inch or two of mix and top with a fresh batch, which will give the plant an added dose of nutrients.